Tessa Meeus and Alex Walker talk us through the creative process behind the book ‘Design Dedication’, edited by Annelys de Vet and published by Valiz

The book “Design Dedication: Adaptive Mentalities in Design Education” explores an attitude in and towards design education that is “socially engaged, politically aware, generous in approach, lyrical in tone, experimental in form and collaborative in practice”. It might seem complex at first, but it addresses a very important and sensitive issue by making a plea for adaptive mentalities within design pedagogy and design practices. Edited by Annelys de Vet and designed by Tessa Meeus and Alex Walker, Design Dedication reaches out to design students, designers, artists and teachers, who are open to questioning their own practices and (re-)setting values in design education. The book was published by the cultural platform Valiz with Amsterdam’s Sandberg Instituut.

How can we talk about and bring out the political that’s inherent to the work that design students are doing? Where do these approaches lead to? What kind of work is being developed in this context? And what kind of responsibility hold educational institutes, to support and secure this kind of development? Design Dedication tries to give answers to all of these questions, while leaving room for different perspectives on this subject.

To translate this complex concept into the design of the book, the two designers, Tessa and Alex, made use of tools, type and design skills of both Alumni and current students of the Design Department. Interwoven with the text, Design Dedication contains a wide and interesting selection of images, all of works and projects developed at or within the framework of the Design Department of the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. “The works made by Sandberg Design Department alumni, even though it may seem abstract and mysterious at times, can be applied in various ways. We wanted to open up the design process and use these abstract thoughts and projects in a more applied context”, Tessa and Alex tell C24, “ For example, in the index and the glossary, we used Nero Alto Light, a typeface designed by Sandberg alumnus Mateo Broillet. The cover artwork and acknowledgement pages are designed with Glyph Drawing Club — a text art editor created by Sandberg alumnus Heikki Lotvonen.”

While both designers studied together at Sandberg Instituut, Design Dedication was the first project Tessa and Alex collaborated on. “It’s been a really fruitful collaboration, because even if we are really different people, we both are very open-minded. Our skills combined well!”, they state. During their first meetings with editor Annelys de Vet and Astrid Vorstermans from publishing house Valiz, Tessa and Alex presented their ideas for the design of the book which fitted quite well into the overall concept. “We wanted to use as many Sandberg related design projects and tools as we could, and use this opportunity to experiment with color. Those ideas fitted really well together”, the duo states, “Fortunately, Astrid and Annelys trusted us in working with these experiments, of course that needs to be the case in order to make these kind of ideas work.”

Together with students of the design department, the duo tested the color profiles in a two-part workshop in November 2019, resulting in an offset-printed A2 test sheet containing images and texts from their work, as well as colors and mixed ink swatches “that would be key to the book”, Tessa and Alex explain, “This was an exercise in not only opening up the production process, but also engaging with students in a discussion about standardized image reproduction processes, software, and notions of neutrality and normativity.” It’s this unusual and open process that Tessa and Alex describe as one of the best moments of this collaboration. “We really loved to create something out of their works – and work together with Joos, the expert from the letterpress workshop in Rietveld Academy. And of course just being there when these images and texts go though an offset press made us super happy.”

To Tessa, the book addresses many important subjects, that should not be discussed only at Sandberg, but other art schools and institutes as well. “If you look at the index of the book, ‘terms and conditions’, ‘power’ and ‘desires’ are themes that were used often in the texts. That’s not surprising, since at the Sandberg Design Department there goes a lot of thought and time into discussing the systems we use and live in, what they mean, (visually) reproduce, and at who’s expense”, Tessa explains. One subject she cares about is the terms and conditions of emancipatory and decolonized education, also addressed in the article ‘Outlining Education’ by Rana Ghavami and Agata Jaworska. “There are students and student initiatives organizing activities or lectures, and a collective of students that thinks about inclusivity and the social structures around art schools. But more visible action is needed from the art schools themselves to take responsibility, to improve the education itself and the mix of people to whom these institutes are structurally accessible as students and tutors.”

Tessa Meeus

Alex Walker

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